Newspapers and the Jewish mission (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Rabbi Gideon D. Sylvester / Jewish World blogger 07/29/12)
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If you are reading this on Haaretz.com, I am afraid you have already
upset many of my friends. "How can anyone read that anti-Israel rag?"
They resent newspapers that report and thereby publicize difficult
and disturbing aspects of our country from the neglect of Holocaust
survivors to the treatment of the middle classes. Most of all, they
see no reason to focus on the problems faced by foreign workers,
refugees and Palestinians.
In certain circles, it has become axiomatic that the foundation of
the State of Israel marked the beginning of the messianic era. God is
on the side of the Jews and moral challenges, especially those
relating to anyone outside the religious Zionist camp, must be
The great British newspaper baron, Lord Northcliff, was a proud
patriot. His newspapers stood for "the power, the supremacy and the
greatness of the British Empire." Still, he was well aware that
challenging reporting would not be universally popular. "News," he
said, "is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is
Tisha B´Av is about putting aside that self-promotion and honestly
focusing on the difficult issues that we prefer to suppress.
Thousands of years ago, as the Jews returned from the Babylonian
exile and began rebuilding the Temple, they asked the prophet
Zechariah whether they needed to fast on Tisha B´Av. Bitterly, he
pointed out that even in the years when they had fasted, their fasts
had more to do with ritualistic posturing than sincere repentance.
God had made clear to them his will: "Execute true justice; show
mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the
fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each
other” (Zechariah 7: 9). Tragically, the people failed to accept
their moral mission, so we were exiled again and so long as we fail
to listen to the moral guidance of prophets and teachers, we are
destined to repeat our sins and relive their punishments.
We still continue to dismiss any facts that might lead us to ask
difficult questions. Just last week, a leading politician attempted
to convince me that the refugees sleeping in Israel´s parks did not
in fact come here to escape persecution in Eritrea and Sudan, but in
fact are being dispatched here by the New Israel Fund in a deliberate
campaign to dilute the Jewishness of our country.
While all reasonable people shun these absurdities, many Israelis
feel that we must protect ourselves from journalists who undermine
national pride by painting our moral portrait far darker than it
really is and whose anti-religious sentiments are profoundly
They may be right. But even if only a small percentage of the
disturbing reportage were true, we would still have sufficient cause
for concern and a decisive reason for action in rooting out racism
and inequalities from our society. Proud Zionist Jews are the heirs
of the ethical tradition of prophets and rabbis who taught that we
must never be complacent or self-satisfied. On the contrary, we must
constantly reexamine our conduct to be sure that we are striving for
the highest standards.
My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Amital, a Holocaust survivor, an eminent
scholar, and a passionate Zionist declared that he was fearless in
criticizing governmental blunders because his prime responsibility
was to preserve the ethical standing of the nation and to avoid a
desecration of God´s name.
On Tisha B´Av, we recite Zecharia´s words expressing the Jewish
challenge. Return to Me says the Lord of Hosts and I will return to
you. Fast days provide opportunities for national cleansing and
renewal. But returning to God requires that we first recognize our
failings and correct our mistakes. We cannot do that unless we are
prepared to confront the stories we´d rather avoid in our newspapers.
(© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 07/29/12)
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